Yim Tith, who was charged with crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the mass killings in 1970, may be released as lawyers argue over whether he falls under the court’s jurisdiction.
Tith, who was acting chief of the Khmer Rouge’s Northwest Zone, was charged in 2008. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, has sought to have the court dissolved and urged the tribunal not to prosecute more perpetrators.
Differences between the Cambodian judges, who argue that Tith was not one of those “most responsible” for the Khmer Rouge regime’s crimes, and international judges who are pushing for his prosecution, have led to a legal stalemate.
Tith was charged for his alleged role in the mass killings of the Khmer Krom, murder, extermination, enslavement, forced deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution, forced marriage, and other inhumane acts.
The Cambodian judges can significantly slow the process as they hold majorities at each level of the court.
Observers said they do not believe that cases 003 and 004 will go to trial due to the strong opposition from Hun Sen.
Peter Maguire, author of “Facing Death in Cambodia”, said it was likely that Hun Sen would not allow the Tith case to proceed.
“Moreover, irrespective of their malevolent acts, neither man qualifies as ‘a senior leader’,” he said.
“Once again, the UN is trying to expand their mandate to exceed the scope of the original agreement on the Khmer Rouge tribunal. ECCC officials continue to act as if these proceedings are little more than the application of laws to facts and that politics plays no role.
“At this point, after more than a decade of humiliations at the hands of Hun Sen, UN leaders and the new heralds of the human rights industry would be wise to heed the words of American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines’.”
Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American human rights activist and lawyer who lost both parents to the Khmer Rouge, said such a decision would be a disappointment.
“And now we are concerned that the Khmer Rouge tribunal will not investigate Ta Tith. This is again a slap in the face of the Khmer Rouge’s victims, but we are no longer surprised the Khmer Rouge tribunal and by its shameful acts and its inability to deliver justice to the victims,” she said.
Neth Pheaktra, a court spokesman, said the court was apolitical and that judges would make judgments based on the evidence at hand.
Tith’s defense team will now have three months to respond in a final submission before the judges decide whether to move for an indictment.
“The closing order would be an order to finally evaluate if the suspect who was asked to be investigated is under the tribunal’s jurisdiction.”
Long Panhavuth of the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said the recent proceedings of the court had not removed uncertainty for the victims.
“This development does not win the trust of the victims, public and donors,” he said.